Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Movie Review (and Pre-Release Hype): The Fighter

Based on a true story - Check.
Plot centering on a nearly hopeless underdog who overcomes adversity - Check.
Subplot involving drug addiction and dysfunctional family drama - Check.
Lead actress who plays against type and shows off her bod in some sexy lingerie - Check.
Boxing - Check.

Look out, Oscar, here comes The Fighter.

For those of you planning on seeing The Fighter - and I hope it's most of you - I'll leave out any serious spoilers in the pre-jump material. Although seeing as the film is based on the true story of boxer Micky Ward, the entire plot (and then some) is laid bare in the history books. But for those of you who wish to remain ignorant of real-life events in order to better enjoy the filmic representation of those events, I'll begin with some of the basics.

Lead actor Mark Wahlberg joined the film in 2005, and has been training non-stop to achieve his flawless boxer's physique. Since then, the script passed through the hands of Martin Scorsese and Darren Aronofsky before David O. Russell ended up in the director's chair. Christian Bale replaced Brad Pitt and returned to his acclaimed weight loss diet from The Machinist, Amy Adams put on her best "bad girl" face, and we're ready to tell the obscure yet inspiring story of the REAL pride of Lowell, Massachusetts.

Okay, now that we're past the jump, I'll get to the real nitty gritty. If you clicked on a direct link to this post and didn't see the jump link, AND you don't want the movie ruined for you, bookmark this page and return after the December 17 release date. The original release date, December 10, is now a limited release - the wide release was pushed back a week to  avoid competition with superstar driven espionage thriller The Tourist. As long as it hits theaters before the Academy voting deadline, it'll be okay.

How did I end up seeing the film so early? No, I didn't buy a bootleg copy. Pirating movies is wrong and takes money out of the pockets of deserving individuals, such as the Academy member who brought me along to the special advance screening.

It's strangely appropriate that I saw this movie at the Academy Theater, since its Oscar-hype seemingly preceded it. Amy Adams was featured in The Hollywood Reporter's Awards Watch Actress' Roundtable. Christian Bale has been making his own waves. Plus the Academy is boners for boxing: just witness Rocky's 1976 Best Picture win over legendary and still timely classic Network.

Despite his complete and utter devotion to the project and to the real-life main character (they both grew up in tough neighborhoods in the working-class Boston area), Mark Wahlberg hasn't garnered a lot of awards attention. Some say that great actors don't win awards, great roles do - and the circumstances surrounding Wahlberg's part seemed tailor-made for recognition. He plays a talented young man with great potential who eventually finds success after getting steered in the wrong direction by the self-serving interests of his destructive family (including what could be a sleeper nomination for Melissa Leo who plays his mother).

The problem is that he seems a little passive for a Best Actor - his character and his performance. Sure he's in the ring, he's the center of attention, he did an obscene amount of work to prepare, and he did all his own stunts, but the events of his story are always influenced from the outside: his brother, his trainer, his girlfriend, his mother and father, etc.

And there's another reason why the Academy won't look kindly on Wahlberg or his movie: he won the big climactic fight at the end. I've never seen Rocky, but I have it on good authority that he lost - at least in the first one. Then he pulled it together and won in all the sequels. But if there's one thing Academy voters like more than underdog heroes, it's seeing underdog heroes lose when it counts the most.

That being said, if there's one thing Academy voters love even MORE than watching their heroes fall flat, it's a charismatic-yet-flawed drug addict that just can't seem to turn his life around until the final seconds of the movie. And that's exactly what Christian Bale provides in his performance as Dickie Eklund. The fact that he dropped a lot of weight for the role all but cements his chances of taking home a little gold statuette.

But lest all these awards predictions get in the way of the actual merits of the film, let me just say that The Fighter works on so many more levels than just an Oscar hopeful. The story is told in a compelling way, mixing in over-the-top yet recognizable characters, a scary yet believable family dynamic, and a true underdog story. Well, at least it was "based on" a true story, which is one step more reliable than "inspired by" a true story, but still several steps below documentary true.

Plus Amy Adams in see-thru lingerie. Hubba hubba.

Overall rating: 88 Congos.